Sunday, 11 April 2010

Connecting Classrooms in Ethiopia!

I arrived back in the UK a few days ago, but it has taken me a while to write this post, simply because I am feeling overwhelmed. I kept a diary whilst I was away, we were so busy and I found that it helped to record my thoughts.

Sunday 4th April 2010
Arrived at Damu hotel in Addis Ababa, just after midnight with Julie and Gianni, my colleagues from Cradle Hill Primary School in Seaford.

The sun rises at 6am every morning, the central highlands that we visited have a temperate climate and average temperature of about 16 degrees- just right! I stepped onto the balcony and sighted a goat killing, this was to be my first memory of Africa.

We met for breakfast with colleagues from the British Council (Nejat and Berhanu), teachers from Asella in Ethiopia (Lemma and Ameha) and teachers from Enugu in Nigeria (Eric, Ernie and Joy). We were also accompanied by an ex student of Asella Preparatory school and now a student at university in Addis (Negash). Negash was also part of the 'Dreams and Teams' project 3 years ago, organised by Link Ethiopia. They are a separate charity that Seaford Head subscribes to and are involved with. The 'Connecting Classrooms' project is a 3 year programme run by the British Council and remained my main aim of the visit, but it was great to be involved with the Link Ethiopia project at the same time.

After our greetings, we then experienced a tour of Addis- the world's third highest capital city with an altitude of 2,400m. I was overwhelmed as we passed through the streets in the shuttle bus. Words can't really describe the scenes. We visited a museum and a church and were shown every single artefact. It was an interesting presentation style!

Back to the hotel for a traditional ceremony that included popcorn, a huge slice of bread and coffee, all at the same time. I thought that was lunch, so I was laughing so much it was embarrassing (I wasn't the only one- Julie! ;)). I couldn't stop- it was surreal, there I was sat in Africa, eating popcorn for lunch, or so I thought. They took it well I think! Then they presented us with lunch in a different room.

We began our 4 hour journey south, along one road to Asella, where we would stay for the next 3 nights. This journey was mad, words can't describe the people, bulls, goats, donkeys, other vehicles, it was like Grand Theft Auto in Ethiopia. It was early evening when we arrived at Derartu hotel in Asella and we met some more people who worked at the schools we would be visiting. It was like one big party the whole time, they made us so welcome.

Monday 5th April
Up early for breakfast (apart from Nigeria who clearly forgot to set their alarm!) and then straight into Asella Preparatory School- many famous people in Ethiopia got their education from this school, including the Olympic gold medalist runners Haile Gebrselassie and Derartu Tulu. We had a discussion in Lemma's office about his school and then we were shown around. This school is for those students that have reached the grade in the national exams (equivalent to GCSE) so is similar to our sixth form colleges. They study for two years and take another national exam (equivalent to A-level) and they can then join university.

Meeting with Lemma, Headteacher...

We delivered some training in games based learning, which mainly focused upon strategies to teach the English language. They welcomed our ideas, but it was such a different approach and they can have more than 70 in one class. Playing simple games is a totally new concept for them. We participated in much discussion and shared ideas during our time in all of the schools. The Nigerian teachers said that the government are reducing class sizes in their country, but in reality it is not working. I could not imagine dealing with a situation where I had 40 on the register but 80 turning up!

Delivering some training...

Much of the education in Ethiopia takes place using the 'Plasma'. These educational lessons are broadcast live from Addis to all regions across Ethiopia. The main aim of this is to provide equal opportunities and access to education for all students, including those from rural areas where there are a lack of teachers. A typical lesson using this style of learning involves students taking notes for 40 minutes and then a discussion at the end of the lesson. Many of the teachers are unhappy with this initiative that was introduced 5 years ago- it can't be paused for discussion and is generally not a good thing to be using so frequently. There was a general consensus that it was good for Science lessons as there are no laboratories. Interestingly, Geography was the only subject that did not have to use the plasma screen as they felt it was not a good way to help facilitate the teaching and learning process. So much for different learning styles- PLTS, what's that?! The government recognise the flaws in the use of the Plasma screen and are striving to improve. I asked the teachers what would happen if they chose not to use the Plasma. It was unthinkable to do that, Lemma would not be happy, he is under pressure to make sure it is implemented and believes it to be a political issue.

Lunch was a little unsuccessful, again. Most lunchtimes were hysteria for me, my eyes were watering with laughter and it made everyone else laugh. I thought I would try some traditional food and be all cultured, but when they presented Gianni and I with raw mince we decided to just eat the bread!

After Asella Preparatory School, we visited the Education bureau and municipality in the afternoon- and had discussions about the education policy and strategy in Asella and Ethiopia in general. We were also shown around the cultural museum and then ran back to the hotel as it started to rain, heavily. We had a few St George's and enjoyed chicken tibs for tea (fried meat). These were more successful, I learned my lesson from what went wrong at lunch times and I had worked out how to order the right things from the menu.

Chicken Tibs!

Tuesday 6th April
Up early again. We waited a while for the Nigerian teachers to wake up, just for a change! On the agenda was a visit to the 3 cluster schools and we participated in class and school observations. We visited Lemat Behibret School- a primary school in Asella. We were shown around the special needs unit which was just fascinating. We then caused mayhem at breaktime and were bombarded with children wanting to have their photograph taken, touch our skin, hold hands, play football and not want to go back into class. It was an amazing experience but I don't think the teachers approved of the chaos we caused!

Me with some students at Lemat

In the afternoon we visited Chilalo Terarra High School and we delivered our training again, we managed to incorporate the students this time and they seemed to really enjoy the games we played.

We then returned to Asella Preparatory School. We planted our own tree and gave a short speech and then joined in with the celebrations and cultural show around the camp fire in the evening. They insisted I dance- it was fun. More St George beer!

Wednesday 7th April

We travelled to Lake Langano in the Great Rift Valley- a much hotter climate. It was another hilarious 4 hour mini bus shuttle ride through rural Ethiopia. 22 people in a 15 seater made for an interesting journey, who needs a risk assessment! We mainly took time to relax here and enjoy the beautiful scenery. We ate lunch and made our plans for hosting the Ethiopian and Nigerian teachers back to the UK next year, an exciting agenda for them. We stayed the night at Langano lake, we were slightly worried that there were mosquito nets over the beds. We didn't take the Malaria tablets due to us visiting mainly places at high altitude. However the lake had many more mosquitoes. I now have to spend the next year looking out for symptoms of Malaria, due to being bitten on the ankle.

Team Connecting Classrooms- at the lake!

Thursday 8th April
We had our final breakfast together at the lake and then headed back to Addis, via Debre Zeit. Firew (Link Ethiopia) organised lunch at the lake for us, which was a lovely surprise. We met Chris Grant, the director of Link Ethiopia and the man to give me a job if I want to work over there! We then paid a quick visit to our link school, Ada Model Secondary School in Debre Zeit. I met the students and handed over some of the letters that my students had written.

Link Ethiopia and Connecting Classrooms...

When we arrived back at Damu hotel in Addis Ababa we visited the British Council office and met with colleagues and discussed the success of the week. We then enjoyed a bit of shopping at the local market, where I purchased some souvenirs to make a display back at school. We met Rooney here, who is friends with Negash and had also been a part of the 'Dreams and Teams' project 3 years ago.

At the British Council Office in Addis Ababa...

The visit has helped me to prioritise our agenda for the next year. This will be to combine our Link Ethiopia club to the one for Connecting Classrooms and work side by side. We shall create an African garden and raise awareness of the culture in Ethiopia- food tasting, music etc. We will raise money to equip the Science lab at Ada Model School. There will also be more of an emphasis on the importance of making even more connections for students and getting them a contact in the UK, via letters, email, facebook etc. This was so important to the students I met. I would like to incorporate a place study and write a scheme of learning about Ethiopia in time for the summer term.

Saying goodbye to such warm hearted people was very difficult. It was easily the best experience of my life and I learned so much. It was a fantastic opportunity to see how people in Ethiopia live. I was totally humbled to meet such wonderful people and be welcomed into their beautiful country. I remain positive as I made good friends and look forward to when I return- hopefully this summer!

I do hope I have managed to transmit my fascination and enthusiasm to anyone that has read this rather long should visit Ethiopia!

My flickr photos can be found here.

My vocab for the week...

-By ze way!
-St George for me!
-Konjo- Beautiful
-Chicken Tibs!
-Keep walking, talking and touching!
-Salam- Hello
-Eshi- Ok
-Betam gobez neh- You are very clever!
-Would anyone like to take to the floor?!

For more information on how to get involved with projects like this, see the links below:

The British Council- Connecting Classrooms
Link Ethiopia


Miss Ellis said...

I really enjoyed reading your account, and am very envious of your visit. I will look forward to hearing more about how your project develops...

Tony Cassidy said...

Brilliant post, great animoto. It seems that you had both a good and eye-opening time.

Miss Smith said...

Thanks. It was amazing!